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How reliable are the extreme weather records in NZ?

In brief 
  • Ian Wishart says the ranking of Cyclone Gabrielle is skewed because major historical events were not part of the comparison. 
  • Wishart says the missing data suggests violent storms were more frequent in the late 1800s. 
  • Maybe it is journalists and not evidence that says Gabrielle is proof positive there is a climate emergency.  

Climate of alarmism

NZ’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) claims cyclones may be less frequent in a warming world, but likely to be more extreme. NIWA said February 2023’s Cyclone Gabrielle was ‘unprecedented’ based on barometric measurements, the intensity of which was fuelled partly by climate change

However, investigative journalist Ian Wishart (who broke the story that led to the Winebox Inquiry) says a review of more fulsome historical data suggests the cyclone, despite causing massive destruction and killing 11 people, was neither one of the wettest nor strongest storms in NZ’s history. Several storms in the 1800s packed more of a wallop despite the lower carbon environment of the day. 

How reliable are the extreme weather records in NZ? - Centrist
When it comes to climate change, informed choices means having all the information.

How good are NIWA’s records? 

Wishart published two reports entitled Climate of Fear. The reports suggest many of NZ’s biggest storms are missing from NIWA’s Historic Weather Events Database. The missing data makes it difficult for journalists and politicians to gauge the frequency and intensity of climate events. Wishart says the records are skewed to accurately record every modern climate event while missing more than 80% of major historical events.

This in turn makes statements regarding Cyclone Gabrielle’s connections to climate change far less credible.

How can you get the right answer without the data? 

Wishart writes “In the space of just four days since the Climate of Fear report was released, Gabrielle had gone from New Zealand’s biggest storm since records began to merely the second biggest storm in the North Island since 1960.”

NIWA has posted a press release to its site that accuses Wishart of relying on data from an NZ website on Historic Weather Events with the New Zealand National Climate Database. While not denying their records don’t contain all the historic information, NIWA makes the point it is very difficult to confirm some of this earlier data and they haven’t done the work to include it all in their records. 

Wishart observes that NIWA officials on social media seemed unaware of the data gaps the journalist identified. 

On 15 March 2023, an RNZ headline read “NIWA scientist is in no doubt that climate change behind Cyclone Gabrielle’s intensity” and climate change made the storm 30% more intense. But NIWA’s press release clarified their position that NIWA did not claim that Gabrielle was the strongest ever storm to pass near the North Island, only one of the strongest storms. Similarly, NIWA did not say it was caused by climate change, only that climate change was likely to be a factor in its severity.

However, how can a storm that is not uncharacteristically strong or intense relative to other storms then have its strength or intensity attributable to climate change? 

A need for measured response

The Minister for Climate Change, Green Party co-leader James Shaw, points to Cyclone Gabrielle as proof positive that climate change is here

National’s Maureen Pugh suffered a rebuke for simply asking to see evidence linking the cyclone to man made climate change. 

Don’t disasters like Gabrielle suggest job one should be fortifying against extreme weather? Affecting the climate materially is a tall order for the world and an impossible one for NZ alone.

Many are saying 2023 will be the ‘climate change election’. The  heated debate goes beyond NZ and there are experts and science on both sides of the narrative. To help temper the influence of fervently convinced “experts”, which nearly every MSM reporter seems to be, the more complete the Government data, the better.

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